Jasmine Farmer, Conrad Clevenger

Service, sustainability at heart of Philippines trip

LaGrange College seniors Jasmine Farmer and Conrad Clevenger traveled with 17 fellow students and four professors in January on a 16-day service and sustainability trip to the Philippines, where they expected to teach and serve in the impoverished slum areas of Manila, in a local orphanage and at a hospital.

Instead, the people they served ended up teaching them.

"I spent a lot of time with a ninth-grade boy at the Gilead Center," Conrad says of an orphanage and school run by the Methodist-affiliated Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation, or KKFI, based in the Philippines. "We were able to bond because with my being so tall, he associated me with basketball, and we both watch the NBA. He made an impact on me because he taught me Tagalog, their language, even though I didn't ask for it to be taught.

"There was such joy on his and the other kids' faces to be able to have something they could teach someone else. He taught me that sometimes service can be just sitting there listening and learning. It's not me giving something but him giving something to me."

The Philippines trip was one of four international study-away opportunities available to LaGrange College students during the January Interim Term. Two years ago, LaGrange began offering all incoming freshmen a $2,500 travel voucher to be used during their junior or senior year, and this was the first year students could redeem their vouchers.

The two seniors narrowly missed the travel voucher program, which began their sophomore year, but both Jasmine and Conrad applied and received $2,500 travel scholarships from the college.

"The trip cost $3,200, so it's wonderful to think that our college gave us the opportunity to go to Asia for only $700 each," Jasmine says. "A plane ticket can easily cost more than $700 alone, and our cost included everything. That's amazing for a trip all the way across the world, especially when you have the life-changing experiences that we did."

Religion and philosophy, nursing and biology professors led the students through hands-on experiences related to their academic disciplines.

Two nursing professors and the seven nursing majors on the trip spent time in the Methodist-affiliated Mary Johnson Hospital, where the students assisted in surgeries, bathed newborns and gave them immunizations, administered medications and took manual vital signs.

"Their lack of technology and resources was mind-blowing to us," Jasmine says. "They still use paper charts, so all the vital signs, the IVs, had to be checked on a regular basis."

Even though the hospital was behind the times in technology, Jasmine says she and other students will implement much of what they learned from the nurses and other medical staff there.

"I enjoyed seeing how caring they were, how they had such a positive impact on their patients," she says. "If someone was getting ready for surgery or was in excruciating pain or wanted someone to pray over them, they sat with them and encouraged them. It's something I will always keep in mind and implement when I become a nurse.

"Some of my friends signed up to be in the OR, and little did they know they'd actually be surgery techs. In the U.S. you have to be a certified surgery technician to help a doctor. But some of our class scrubbed in and began handing off tools to the doctor. One girl even found herself holding someone's gallbladder when the doctor asked her to."

The students spent a good portion of their trip with the ministries offered by KKFI. They helped the children at the Gilead Center plant a garden and also taught lessons to them at the KKFI-sponsored school.

"The people who work at KKFI do an amazing job investing in these children's lives," Conrad says. "They teach them to become self-sufficient, and they help them receive an education. They take care of their practical, spiritual and emotional needs.

"It's really cool how LaGrange College's relationship with KKFI is building, especially because we're both affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Dr. David Ahearn (religion and philosophy professor) is planning on returning with more student groups like ours to help KKFI minister to these children. The Philippines is absolutely the perfect place for the college to be. It's far away, yet it's a place where English is spoken, so you can bring students here and make a real impact."

The students also helped KKFI with its ministry in the most impoverished areas of Manila, including the Manila North Cemetery, where 10,000 homeless people live in mausoleums for shelter and serve as caretakers of the structures for the families of the deceased.

"Manila is one of the most impoverished cities in the world," Conrad says. "Five million people are packed into the city, and you see children 2 to 4 years old wandering by themselves through the streets. Houses are made out of boxes, tin, wood or whatever they can find."

In the cemetery, they spent time talking with its residents and playing games with the children. Several members of the group were invited into the mausoleum home of a woman who shared with them how she slept atop the tomb and had a light generated by a battery she recharged each day.

The government does not recognize the cemetery's residents as citizens, meaning they cannot vote or have access to education. While they were there, KKFI helped one of its children be baptized, which meant he could have documentation to be considered a citizen so he could pursue an education.

A biology professor on the trip added an extra dimension to their travels, taking them to the third largest coral reef in the world for scuba-diving and snorkeling.

"A few of us were already scuba-certified before the trip," Conrad says. "I've been scuba-diving in Cozumel before and also off the coast of Florida, but nothing compared to this. We saw giant sea turtles, squid, scorpion fish and sea snakes.

"I don't know if we'd have the same experience if we hadn't had someone on the trip who knew so much about it. He helped us experience to the fullest one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world."

With the two students spending the last two years at LaGrange College primarily with professors in their own majors, they say it was a highlight of their college experience to spend time overseas with professors they did not know.

"It was awesome to spend time with Dr. (David) Ahearn, Professor (Randy) Colvin, Dr. (Celia) Hay and Professor (Jayne) Pauley," Conrad says. "They're all professors I'd never had before, and they earned a lot of respect because they were right there with us. "With Dr. Ahearn, I've never seen somebody get so excited and into a game of 'capture the flag' with the children, and with Professor Colvin, seeing him play basketball with us and the kids truly made me proud to be a LaGrange College student.

"With taking math classes the last two years, I've known the quality that exists in that department, but through this trip I've seen that high quality is not isolated to one department. I'm glad this trip happened near the end of my senior year so I could get to hang out with the professors and get to know them."

Friends for the Journey

LaGrange College attracts the best and the brightest from all over the world. For example, our most recent incoming class consisted of men and women from 19 states and 10 countries, and included:

  • 76 members of Beta Club or the National Honor Society
  • 71 members of service organizations
  • 51 team captains in varsity sports
  • 25 leaders involved in student government, with 11 presidents
  • Three students involved in school publications, one as editor
  • Two Eagle Scouts
  • 20 musicians in band or orchestra
  • 18 singers in choir
  • 31 entertainers in performing arts
  • 85 students in religious activities.

But you don’t have to be a star in high school to succeed at LaGrange. Here, you’re given the opportunity to discover the best in yourself and find your destiny – all in a caring and supportive environment.